(by Dave Hanson)
Our culture in the United States has different understandings of the word “love.” Most frequently, it is used to express something we really enjoy, like pizza or chocolate (as in, “I love pizza!”). No, loving something is not the same as liking it very much. Thankfully, the scriptures paint a different picture of love for us. The Scriptures give us the true meaning of love from God’s perspective. And God should know; He invented it.
A Pharisee asked Jesus Christ which commandment is the greatest. His response?
Mark 12:29, 30 (REV)
29) Jesus answered, “The first is, Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
30) Therefore, you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
Interestingly, there is no record of Jesus pondering this question for a while. Let’s see, Number 8 is good, Number 4 is a personal favorite, and who could forget that cool stuff with the lamb? Um, let me ponder this…
No, our Lord answered right away that loving God comes first. And, because there was a “Two-for-One” sale on commandments that day (get the first commandment and get a second one free), Jesus threw in the second commandment without even being asked.
Mark 12:31 (REV)
31) The second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The first two commandments involve real love. Therefore, when we understand what love really is, we can better obey what is most important to our Heavenly Father.
In Luke 10, we see a record where someone tried to get clarification on this second commandment. This expert in the law tried to test Jesus.
25) On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26) “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27) He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28) “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Jesus told him he had answered correctly. Now that would have done it for me. No more questions; I’ll quit while I’m ahead. Not this guy; he just can’t help himself.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responds about loving your neighbor with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Luke 10:30, 33
30) In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. […]
33) But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
After speaking the parable, Jesus now asks “the expert” about the lesson.
36) “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37) The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Much has been written about this parable, but to summarize:
- A man gets robbed and hurt pretty badly and now has great need, both physically and financially.
- Two religious men, a priest and a Levite (for whatever reason) ignore the man’s needs and pass by.
- A Samaritan, considered a spiritual outcast, steps in, takes care of him, and pays for his care.
My guess is that this Samaritan’s “To Do” list was not:
- Go to Jericho.
- Find half-dead man.
- Bind up half-dead man’s wounds.
- Pick up half-dead man and carry him to Inn.
- Pay for half-dead man and offer to pay any more that might be needed.
- Finish business.
- Come home.
The Samaritan, like any of us, had things to do. This parable shows us that love is not always something that is planned ahead of time. Sometimes situations arise where we see someone else with a need. Love begins with a focused caring for the well-being of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. And it requires a decision.
All three of these men in the parable had plans, yet life intervened. Something unexpected happened, and each of them now had a decision to make. First option: they could continue on their schedules and accomplish their own tasks and goals. Second Option: they could put their own wants and needs aside and focus on caring for the needs of another, in this case, the half-dead man.
Two of the three men, for whatever reason, chose Option 1: to continue on their own agenda, regardless of the needs of the hurt man. Sadly, this is a decision made all too often in our world. Our focus on our own needs and wants distracts us from reaching out and helping others.
Perhaps we don’t see physically beaten men every day, but we all probably see people who have been severely beaten spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. These folks don’t need physical oil for healing; they need the spiritual balm of Jesus Christ to heal their souls. This is where we can decide to get involved and love.
The Samaritan chose Option 2, to selflessly jump in and help; going above and beyond to care for the man’s every need. Jesus’ instruction to the Pharisee at the end of the parable – applicable to us also – is to “do likewise.” It starts with a decision.
Opportunities may arise to help with the physical needs of those around us. Our heart and focus, to the best of our ability, should be to help. But this caring for the needs of others should apply to the spiritual needs of our neighbor as well. Right before Jesus ascended, he gave his disciples some final instructions.
18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
Truly caring for another person is to be vitally concerned about the other’s spiritual needs, and not just the physical. Time and again, Jesus would not just heal people physically. He would also teach God’s words to them, with a focus on their eternal life.
The Apostle Paul modeled this care for the spiritual needs of the saints in Thessalonica.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
11) For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,
12) encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Our culture, particularly in the United States, can be very fast-paced. With 24-hour news, omnipresent sports coverage from around the world, and the Internet, we can be tempted to immerse ourselves into our own little world, totally distracted from the needs of others. We need to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and decide to love as he did.
Jesus Christ did not just preach this selfless love. He was the gold standard and master of living it. His decisions to love, even in the face of adversity and death, are an example and inspiration to us.
In Matthew 14, John the Baptist had been killed, and his disciples came to tell Jesus. Jesus and his closest disciples heard the news and sought solitude. (The corresponding record in Mark 6:31 notes that where they were at the time, they did not have time to even eat.) However, the people followed them, giving Jesus a decision to make.
13) When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
14) When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Jesus could have easily focused on his own grief, fatigue, and hunger and asked for some time off. He would have been well within his rights to take some bereavement time to go and pray and grieve. But not our Lord. He saw the needs of the people and immediately put his own needs aside and ministered to them.
Later that same day, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish and miraculously feeds five thousand men besides the women and children. After the crowds have been healed, taught, and fed, Jesus dismisses them.
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
Finally, after everyone else’s needs have been met, Jesus can take some time for himself. And certainly, it is important for all of us to take time to take care of ourselves. However, when life presents opportunities to minister to others, we may need to put our own desires and needs aside and follow Jesus’ example of jumping in to love others.
Perhaps the greatest example of Jesus putting his own personal desires aside to love others is at the end of his life. After the Last Supper, Judas Iscariot led soldiers and others to capture and arrest Jesus.
4) Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5) “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
Jesus, “knowing all that was going to happen to him,” responded, “I am he.” Jesus knew full well about the torture he would have to endure. He knew that it would end with his agonizing death. Yet, he put his own desire to live aside, and he went through it all because he loved God and he loved us. Jesus revealed his love for us at the Last Supper.
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Those of us who believe in Jesus can do the great works he did, and greater, because he went to His Father. Again, Jesus understood full well that “going to the Father” meant agonizing torture and death. He also knew that those of us who would believe would have eternal life because of his death. Jesus chose to focus on us and give his life for us. What an amazing example of love!
Later, after having been tortured for hours upon hours, Jesus is on the cross, very near death. And life opens up one more opportunity to decide to love. Everyone had been reviling Jesus, even one of those who was being crucified with him.
39) One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40) But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
41) We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42) Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
At this point, Jesus could have simply asked, “Do I look like I’m in the mood for this?” and turned away. By this point Jesus was in a whole world of pain, knowing death was imminent. And yet, he ignored his own situation and reached out to love one more time.
Luke 23:43 (REV)
And he said to him, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
We know that Jesus wasn’t referring to being in Paradise that very day (he had already prophesied that, like Jonah, he would be dead in the grave three days and three nights). Jesus was letting this man know definitively that he would one day be with the Lord in Paradise. Jesus, despite his pain and suffering and imminent death, gave this man a comforting message of hope in his final moments of life.
Life presents us with opportunities every day to decide to care for the needs of others or to serve ourselves. Let’s work to avoid the myriad of distractions and focus on loving God and others. Let’s imitate our Lord Jesus and decide to get involved in the lives of others and minister to their needs.
As in Jesus’ time on Earth, today many people are hurting in many ways. We can imitate the love of our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ and reach out to help, bless, and minister.
1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
2) and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…
This is our awesome opportunity and responsibility before our Lord Jesus Christ, and it begins with a decision.
 From Deut. 6:4, 5.
 From Lev. 19:18.